I had the honor of attending the German Marshall Fund’s Marshall Seminar on Transatlantic Security from April 22-24, 2015. For three days, participants listened to experts discuss the challenges and possibilities in a variety of areas of transatlantic relations. On the last day, we were asked three questions: 1) What was the most important thing we learned? 2) What will we do with the knowledge? 3) Where is the greatest potential for transatlantic cooperation? Here are my thoughts on them.
What was the most important thing we learned?
While there were many, many interesting and important points made by the speakers, two ideas really stuck with me.
During the panel on Russia and the Middle East, Ian Lesser said that one of the most important issues in maintaining and strengthening transatlantic relations today is getting the U.S. to see issues/problems through a European lens. While I agree with his assessment, I think getting both U.S. policymakers and the public to do so will be an uphill battle. Europe does not receive as much attention in the media as say, Asia (i.e. China) or the Middle East (given our involvement there for over a decade). A good example of this is the debate surrounding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The U.S. government is not doing a great job explaining and promoting TTIP. As Rep. Sandy Levin explained recently at the Bertelsmann Foundation, “TTIP is essentially unknown in the US Congress.” If Congress doesn’t know much about TTIP, what does that say about the public’s knowledge of it? So, the question we should ask ourselves is how do we get the public and our elected officials to care about Europe? How should the government (e.g. the State Department, NATO, the US Trade Rep, etc.) convince the American public that Europe still matters?
The panel on challenges to democracy was informative and gave me a lot to think about. In his introductory remarks, Ivan Vejvoda brought up the point that democracy is an ongoing process. Of course, if that is the case (which I believe it is), then is democracy truly attainable? Brenda Carter, of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, shared some enlightening data concerning political representation and demographics of power here in the U.S. Here argument that we should apply the same scrutiny to the U.S. as we do other countries when it comes to democracy was certainly thought-provoking. Finally, Mohamed-Ali Adraoui asked the question, “If some people don’t matter, then what happens to democracy?” His discussion of identity and exclusion in democracy was certainly relevant in both Europe and the U.S.
What will we do with the knowledge?
As a teacher, I plan on taking the information and turning it into lesson plans. The panels on climate change and migration, global health, democracy were all very useful and provided ideas for the classroom. They will be especially useful during my units on the Sustainable Development Goals. The panel on democracy, as discussed above, is also relevant for my classes on government and politics.
Where is the greatest potential for transatlantic cooperation?
As far as the topics of the panels go, the U.S. and Europe can cooperate on a number of areas. All of the issues covered were global issues, necessitating global solutions. No one country can tackle them alone. While a certain degree of competition among countries will always exist, the U.S. and its European allies must cooperate and work towards multilateral solutions. Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic can learn from each other; however, that requires a greater degree of flexibility and innovation than currently exists.
I also believe, as I have written before, that teachers need to be more involved to promote transatlantic relations. I am developing the rough outline of a possible teacher program that I hope to share with relevant parties (and perhaps on this blog) in the near future. If we want the public to understand why Europe still matters to the U.S. and to see global issues/problems through a European lens, teachers must be involved.
Attending this seminar was the best professional development I have had in my thirteen years as a teacher. I would love to attend more like it and even apply for fellowships or programs whose goals are to maintain and strengthen transatlantic relations. Ideally, I would prefer to leave teaching and work full time on such matters. Unfortunately, as I look for such opportunities, I realize that as I fast approach 40 years old, my chances are limited.
Thanks for reading.